All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live, and multiply…
I. THE WANDERING OF THE ISRAELITES THROUGH THE WILDERNESS TO CANAAN IS A LIVELY IMAGE AND REPRESENTATION OF A CHRISTIAN'S PASSAGE THROUGH THIS WORLD TO HEAVEN.
1. The passage of the Israelites through the wilderness was a very unsettled state; so is ours through this world. If we do not continually wander about from place to place as the Israelites did, yet we are far from having any fixed and constant abode. The perpetual alterations we see about us, either in our friends, our neighbours, or ourselves, our persons, tempers, estates, families, or circumstances, and in short, the vast change which the compass of a few years makes in almost everything around us, is sufficient to convince us that we are in no settled condition here.
2. The travel of the Israelites through the wilderness was a troublesome and dangerous state. Now, here is another fit emblem of a Christian's pilgrimage through this world which to him is not only a barren but a hostile land. From the very nature of things, and the circumstances of his present state, he meets with many inconveniences and sufferings, and from the malice of his enemies more. Setting aside the natural evils which he bears in common with others, sickness, pains, crosses, disappointments, personal and family afflictions, he is exposed to many spiritual evils and dangers as a Christian which create him no small concern; particularly frequent instigations to sin, from a depraved nature, from an ensnaring and delusive world, and from a wily and watchful enemy going about indefatigably seeking whom he may devour.
3. In the wilderness through which the Israelites travelled to Canaan, there were many by-paths or devious tracts by which they might be in danger of going astray. And how much this resembles a Christian's walk through this world is very apparent.
4. Notwithstanding all the by-paths and windings in the wilderness, the Israelites had an infallible Guide to lead them in the way they should go.
5. Though the Israelites travelled forty years in the wilderness, yet they were all that while not far from the promised land. We have here another circumstance of similitude to a Christian's state in this world. If he be in the right way to heaven, he is never far from it; he lives on the borders of it. A very little and unexpected incident may let him suddenly into the eternal world, which should every day therefore be in his thoughts.
6. The reason why the children of Israel wandered so long in the wilderness before they reached the promised land is given us in the text. Now, whether it be not sometimes by way of punishment that God is pleased to detain some of his people from their state of rest and happiness for a long time, as He did the Israelites from the land of Canaan, I will not take upon me to say. But without all doubt, this world is a state of trial and temptation to them all; in which they are detained the longer that they may be more fit for and more ardently desirous of the heavenly Canaan when they are well wearied with the labours and difficulties of this their earthly pilgrimage. And there are three graces which the trials of life are very proper to cultivate, and to the exercise of which the Israelites were more especially called during their passage through the wilderness. And they are faith, hope, and patience: all proper to a state of suffering and mutually subservient to each other. Faith keeps its eye on God in all we suffer; looks beyond the agency of second causes; views the direction of the Divine band and adores it. Patience, under the influence of faith, submits to the hand of God in all. And hope, enlivened by faith and confirmed by patience, looks beyond all to that future and better state of things where we shall meet with an unspeakable recompence for all we can go through to obtain it.
7. In order to keep up the faith, patience, and hope of the Israelites, full and frequent descriptions were given them of the goodness of that land to which they were travelling. Nor are our faith and patience and hope without the like supports in respect to the heavenly Canaan. Oh, what great and glorious things are told us of the city of the living God, the metropolis of the universal King!
8. When the Israelites were come to the end of their pilgrimage, before they could enter the promised land, they were obliged to pass over the river Jordan which separated the wilderness from Canaan. Here lay their greatest difficulty at the very end of their journey. Now to apply this part of the history to the Christian's life and pilgrimage. The last enemy he is to overcome is death. And as it is the last, so to some Christians it is the most terrible of all their trials; and all their faith and hope and patience is little enough to support them under it. But there is no arriving at the heavenly Canaan without first passing through the fatal Jordan. And as the Israelites by the long and frequent exercise of their faith and hope and trust in God were better prepared for this last difficulty of passing over Jordan, so the more these graces are wrought into a lively habit, the more composed will the soul be under the apprehensions of approaching death.I shall now conclude this with a few reflections:
1. Let these thoughts, then, be improved to abate our desires after the pleasures of the present life and excite them after those of a better.
2. What reason have we to be thankful that we have so sure a Guide through this dangerous desert! The Israelites themselves had not one more safe.
3. Though our state and condition in this world be much the same as that of the Israelites was in the wilderness, let us however take care that our temper and disposition be not the same. They are set up as our warning, not as our pattern.
4. Whilst we are in this wilderness let us keep the heavenly Canaan always in our eye. The frequent thoughts of it will speed our progress towards it, quicken our preparations for it, and be a sovereign support under all the trials we may meet with in our way to it; will soften our sorrows, and reconcile us to all our earthly disappointments. And indeed, what is there which a man need call a disappointment whose heaven is secure?
(John Mason, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.